By JACL National[dropcap]F[/dropcap]eb. 19 is a significant date for the Japanese American community. On this day in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which gave the U.S. Army the authority to remove civilians from the military zones established in Washington, Oregon and California during World War II.
This led to the forced removal and incarceration of some 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast, who had to abandon their jobs, their homes and their lives to be sent to one of 10 concentration camps scattered in desolate, remote regions of the country.
No Japanese Americans were ever charged, much less convicted, of espionage or sabotage against the United States.
Yet, they were targeted, rounded up and imprisoned for years, simply for having the “face of the enemy.”
Every February, the Japanese American community commemorates Executive Order 9066 as a reminder of the impact the incarceration experience has had on our families, our community and our country. It is an opportunity to educate others on the fragility of civil liberties in times of crisis and the importance of remaining vigilant in protecting the rights and freedoms of all.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On this 77th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, we do more than just remember the presidential order that enabled the incarceration of nearly 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans.
We remember the racism and xenophobia against Japanese and other Asian communities that led up to the issuance of Executive Order 9066.
We remember how our government lied about the national security threat that we imposed, simply because of our Japanese heritage.
We remember how our community leaders were targeted by the FBI because of the groups they were in, members of Buddhist and Shinto churches, martial arts instructors, Japanese language school teachers and many others.
We remember how the census was used against us to identify who was Japanese and needed to be rounded up and imprisoned.
Most of all, we remember the lives impacted: the dreams ended, the families torn apart, the lives destroyed.
We remember that Japanese Americans were forced to prove their allegiance to our Constitution through the dedication of military service for a country that was imprisoning their families with no guarantee of release. We remember others who showed their patriotism by choosing to defy unconstitutional orders in support of Constitutional ideals. These are choices no one should ever have to make.
We remember all these things especially because they are now repeating today.
It is not enough for today to be a Day of Remembrance. It must be a day that we say no more to separating families and imprisoning children, no more spreading lies about immigrants, no more targeting of people because of where they come from or what religion they follow, and no more using the census as a weapon.
Just over 30 years ago, we as a country formally recognized the wrongs we had done and offered an apology to those incarcerated during the war. We should not have to make another apology for what we do now.
We can correct ourselves, we can do better.